Category Archives: Language

On second thoughts…

Gentle readers, particularly those who are interested in grammar,

I have been drafting posts for the blog on my professional website and  realise that I have probably bitten off more than I can chew.  I now feel that I am in the middle of writing a book on grammar, which, although interesting, and it may even develop into greater things, is unsustainable at the moment. Who knew that there were so many points to include about the humble apostrophe?!  (I have started drafting a post on that subject at your request, Surfing.)

So my suggestion is this: if you are interested in reading the posts on my other blog, please leave a comment below. I will then take that as permission to send you a private email with the URL of my other blog. I don’t want to link here because I’m trying to keep my rants separate from my professional persona.

I shall look forward to seeing you over at the other place.

English grammar: an introduction

Over the summer I attended a New Testament Greek class. It’s been great fun to be geeky about Greeky grammar with like-minded individuals. Of the eight of us, there were quite a few languages represented. My chum has a Polish background, there was someone who had studied Hebrew, another had some Latin and someone else had dabbled in a little Arabic. In the last lesson yesterday, our tutor, an enterprising Oxford Theology undergraduate, let us loose on translating verses from the Bible. In pairs, we puzzled out all the elements of grammar she had taught us; tenses, genders, cases, exceptions to the rules and so we creaked our way through the actual text rather than the practice sentences that had been used to demonstrate the point we had been learning.

Grammar provides the scaffolding for building sentences. English grammar has its pitfalls – and because I hear so many mistakes made in the British media these days – I am going to write a series of short posts on correct usage. Shockingly, basic mistakes are not only made in speech when one might be forgiven for speaking quickly or forgetting what one has said at the beginning of a long sentence, I see these mistakes in print, too.

The first post to be published shortly will be on when to use ‘I’ and ‘me’.

I know, I know. It seems elementary, dear Watson, but clearly not so simple because so many people get it so wrong. So frequently, in fact, that I cannot stay silent on the subject any longer.

Emails in the bath

News flash:

I interrupt my translation of a bathroom catalogue to bring you this:

Whilst researching a technical word for something or other, I stumbled across an English version of a publication for the very same company that I am currently translating for.

The sentence reads: [Company name] Email makes baths, shower trays and whirlpools scratch-resistant, abrasion-resistant, hygienic, easy to clean and stain resistant.

Great Scott! Which loonhead translated this?? Had they had their brain removed or something? What on earth made them think that “email” would be some sort of  selling point?

It is easy to misread sentences – or even misunderstand them… but surely one might stop and consider that if the logic seems a bit wonky one is not thinking straight? It does sometimes happen that the original author was writing the piece after a beer too many/a row with their partner/too much sun – in which case the translator should go back to the source [client/agency/author] and ask what it is supposed to mean.

In this case, dear reader, Email in German does not mean e-mail – it is the humble coating on bath tubs: enamel.

An irony in this tale is that yesterday I picked up a bathroom catalogue from a local shop – not for background knowledge – but because I am thinking of a few improvements for my bathroom. As I flicked past all the gushing verbiage to find the pictures, specifications and prices, I wept inwardly. Nobody actually reads these finely crafted words… which is probably why the previous translator got away with his/her bath email… nobody noticed.

My life is wasted, I tell you. Wasted!

Too much information

This morning has been spent wiping the tears of hysteria from my cheeks. I have been translating a badly written tourist text for a place that shall remain nameless. Usually, when doing such documents, I end up dreaming of holidays and wishing I were a thousand miles away from my computer. This morning I was not in the least bit tempted to part with my cash to visit the place in question. It sounded very dull “with extensive views over the …er….pharmaceutical factory”. Get me on the next plane over there…not!

The poor unfortunates that do visit this area are told that they will eat their picnic lunch in a room provided with tables and chairs.  ” Auch Toiletten sind hier für das kleinere oder grössere Geschäft vorhanden. “* I’m afraid my British sensibilities balked at translating this in its entirety. My impression of our American cousins is that they are even more sensitive about such matters as they use euphemisms such as “bathroom” and “rest rooms” for fear of being too obvious. This German sentence,  as far as I’m concerned, is one of those things that can be quite happily lost in translation. I merely informed the tourists of the availability of the facilities.

* Toilets are also available for small or larger jobs

Cor blimey, guv’nor… in translation

Just in case any of my non-UK readers did not understand the Cockney rhyming slang in my previous post, there follows an annotated version below.

Me old china [My old china plate = mate] was just telling the trouble and strife [= wife] that now you can go dahn [down] the ole rattle and tank [= bank] to get a speckled hen [ten (pound note)] – or any amount of sausage and mash [= cash] as it ‘appens – no Lady Godivas [= fivers (five pound notes) though – if you just enter your Huckleberry Finn [= PIN] in the machine.  Might go dahn for a butcher’s [butcher’s hook = look]  meself alligator [= later].
This was to note the fact that a bank has equipped its ATMs in east London with spoken instructions in Cockney.  They may have opened the floodgates for requests for ATMs in all sorts of other languages, east London being the traditional initial first stop over the centuries for immigrants – Jews from Russia and Poland, Hugenots from France, and more recently Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. Interestingly, most of the immigrants move on within a few generations but the Cockneys remain.  I wonder why?

Cor blimey, guv’nor!

Me old china was just telling the trouble and strife that now you can go dahn the ole rattle and tank to get a speckled hen – or any amount of sausage and mash as it ‘appens – no Lady Godivas though – if you just enter your Huckleberry Finn in the machine.  Might go dahn for a butcher’s meself alligator.

Don’t call us…

I recently received notification via a translators’ website of a software programme purporting to be indispensable to all those earning their living from writing in one way or another.  The blurb breathlessly promised translators, journalists and copywriters that they would create flawless sentences using this company’s brand new “grammer and writting software”.

Apart from the fact that they clearly do not use their own product (or perhaps they do… in which case it is even less of a convincing advert) I could not help but think they were targeting the wrong market. Those who earn their living from words are perhaps less likely than others to misuse apostrophes or make howling spelling mistakes.  No one is infallible and, inevitably, errors are made. However, I cannot help but feel that the software is not going to be able to detect subtle and debatable points of grammar if the company’s marketing department cannot spot the glaring mistakes in its own copy!


I forgot to mention to my gentle readers that when I was telling my friends about my trip to the German church service, I mentioned that I had not been able to hear all of the sermon.

Kerensa: …but the general theme was Jesus and the vine

Friend:… Jesus and the what?

Kerensa: You know, that bit in John’s Gospel where Jesus says ‘I am the vine’.

Friend: Huh??

Kerensa (beginning to doubt herself): You know, there’s a chapter in John’s Gospel where Jesus says ‘I am the vine…and you are the branches’.

Friend: Oh…VINE. I thought you were saying ‘Rhein’. I was going to say, ‘that’s a new one on me…did the Germans reckon that Jesus had been to the Rhein?’

😉 It’s not always easy to hear everything clearly…even when you are sitting about a metre apart!

It had struck me in the sermon that when the minister said that Jesus used examples based on his audience’s everyday experience that using the vine and the branches would resonate clearly with a German audience – Germany being a wine-producing country… particularly as it happens, along the Rhein (or Rhine… I never know how to spell such words these days).

Learning the language

This afternoon I visited my neighbour, Mrs Cupcake, for a cup of tea and a chat. Her 3 year-old son, Master Cupcake, was drawing a picture at the table as we chatted and occasionally would interrupt us.

I said somebody “was going through an unhappy phase”. Master Cupcake said, “What’s an unhappy phase?” As he said this in his unbelievably cute little way, it suddenly dawned on me that there were two words he might possibly have heard: phase and face.

I explained ‘phase’ and he seemed satisfied (phew!). He didn’t seem to think that there was any contradiction with his understanding of the word ‘face’ so I left it at that.  How amazing that he had distinguished the two words which are so incredibly close in pronunciation!

It also reminded Mrs Cupcake and me that although he seemed to be entirely absorbed in creating a multi-coloured fish he was in fact taking in every word and that we might have to be careful about the subjects we discuss in his presence!

Lent – day 10


Languages: Amharic*, Oromo, local languages

Ethiopia has considered itself a Christian country since the fourth century – and its Christian roots are sometimes traced back to the story of the Ethiopian eunuch told in Acts 8.

Other major religions are growing in influence in Ethiopia and much anti-Christian teaching is spread. Violence against Christians is increasing in some areas including setting fire or bombing of Christian homes or churches and church workers are attacked and beaten.

* On a lighter note, I was once able to order a few items from an Ethiopian menu in Amharic (I had to learn them off by heart as I couldn’t read the script). Sadly, I have forgotten nearly everything – except the word for “thank you” which is something along the lines of “amerseganalo”. It may come in handy again one day. I can also remember “coffee with milk, please” but as I no longer drink coffee, it is going to be less useful.